Wednesday July 19, 06
The Middle East Situation
Tuesday July 04, 06
Proud of America's independence, whatever the masochists say
This July Fourth, ignore polls on America’s image
Christopher Hitchens, The Examiner
WASHINGTON - Here’s what I want to know, and here’s why I want to know it. At what point in history, exactly, did the Pew Center decide that it knew how to measure world opinion?
I ask this because almost every week I seem to read a study of how the rest of the globe thinks (or at any rate feels) about the United States. The polls in this country are unreliable enough and are often used to measure intangibles, such as “approval ratings,” which is why there is so much fluctuation within and between them. But who’s doing the random samples in Somalia and Tajikistan and Ecuador?
I ask because these polls tend to inform Americans that the rest of the world has a decidedly low view of them. That this is true in large parts of the Middle East, and among large swathes of European intellectuals, is something that I can already tell you from experience.
For that matter, it was at one point true that the majority of Pakistanis, say, believed not just that all Jews had left the World Trade Center on time, but that (therefore) they had all reported for work on time, hung around for a bit — presumably whistling and wearing unconcerned expressions — and only then left; doubtless offering some clever Semitic excuse. Not even al-Qaida’s pilots had as exact a schedule as that.
Nonetheless, and despite the absurdity and hysteria of much of what is said and believed, we seem almost ready for a poll of Americans on what they think the rest of the world thinks of them in opinion polls, where the “finding” would be that most of those Americans polled think that most other people polled think they stink.
There are several possible responses to this.
One of them — no doubt to be found in the presumed “red states” — is to say “who gives a flying flip?” Another is not to surrender to impressionism, and to do some work of one’s own.
Large numbers in India, for example (another multiethnic federal and secular democracy), report highly favorable views of the U.S.
A very important poll in Iran (where polling is illegal) found that a huge majority of Iranians considered better relations with America to be the single most urgent priority. One of those who conducted the survey was a former American embassy hostage-taker, who was jailed for publishing his findings.
Then there is the question of method. Polling in the U.S. depends on finding a lot of people who are identifiable by name, and at home in their kitchens when the poll-taker calls. How is this feat replicated in the Andes, say, or in the Congo? Who pays for the work? When is it decided that the time is right?
For example, I am quite certain that an opinion poll of any kind, taken in the Muslim world in 1992, would have discovered enormous resentment at the failure of the United States to intervene militarily in Bosnia. But this ingredient in the famous mixture of Islamic grievances is seldom, if ever, mentioned, and certainly wasn’t head-counted at the time. As a result of that just and necessary intervention, large numbers of Orthodox Christians, not just in Serbia, now record strongly “anti-American” opinions. Which goes to show that you can’t please everybody.
It also goes to show that you probably shouldn’t try. A country that attempted to be in everybody’s good books would be quite paralyzed. The last time everybody said they liked the United States (or said that they said they liked the United States) was just after Sept. 11, when the nation was panicked and traumatized and trying to count its dead. Well, no thanks. This is too high a price to be paid for being popular.
Measurements of opinion are in any event static, and they assume passivity, and a consensus upon knowledge. If you had asked people in 2001 whether they thought it was likely that Afghans and Iraqis would be holding free elections in a couple of years (not that any polling group ever did even suggest such a question), I doubt you would have got a very good response. And how, in any case, could people have known enough to know what they were supposedly talking about?
If I was to interrupt this article every few sentences, asking you whether or not I was making a good impression on you, I hope and believe that you would think I was a servile jerk. Yet this is what our politicians are doing in every speech (most notably in the absurd recent debate on “flag-burning”) and this is apparently what we hire Karen Hughes to do in our public diplomacy.
Faced with a complete beast like the late Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, who has been trying to kill us for several years, millions of Americans appear to believe that he only appeared in Iraq because in some way we made him upset. Well, even if this was true — which it is not — it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. (What would you say to a policy that made him contented, instead?).
Thus, for a Fourth of July message, I would suggest less masochism, more confidence on the American street, and less nervous reliance on paper majorities discovered by paper organizations.
Happy Independence Day.
Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair. His most recent book is “Thomas Jefferson: Author of America.”
Wednesday June 28, 06
Morrissey's lost it
From: Ed Mendoza
Monday May 08, 06
Talk to the Animals
August 26, 2005
Talk to the Animals
THERE they came trudging along, straight upright on stubby legs, shoulders swinging back and forth with each step. Fuzzy at first, their dark silhouettes started to come into focus on the screen just as I was eating my first bite of popcorn. Hobbits, maybe? No. We already knew from the movie's title that they would be birds. Then Morgan Freeman's otherworldly voice informs us that these beings are on a long and difficult journey in one of the most inhospitable places on earth, and that they are driven by their "quest for love."
Since the documentary "March of the Penguins" has become one of the sleeper hits of the summer, I guess I'm not the only one to have been mesmerized. I've long known the story of the emperor penguins, having told it to generations of biology students as a textbook example of adaptation, but to see the sheer beauty and wonder of it all come into focus on the screen still took my breath away, because film technology has finally allowed us to (virtually) enter an exotic world, and yet one that is real.
As the movie continues, everything about these animals seems on the surface utterly different from human existence; and yet at the same time the closer one looks the more everything also seems familiar. Stepping back and viewing from the context of the vast diversity of millions of other organisms that evolved on the tree of life - grass, trees, tapeworms, hornets, jellyfish, tuna, green anoles and elephants - these animals marching across the screen are practically kissing cousins to us. Like many others who loved the movie, I admired the heroics of both the birds themselves and the intrepid camera crew that braved the inhumanly hostile environments of the Antarctic. But as a research biologist who has spent half a century studying the behavior and cognition of animals other than ourselves, I also admired the boldness of the filmmaker, Luc Jacquet, to face down the demon, if not the taboo, of anthropomorphizing his subjects.
Which brings me back to Mr. Freeman's use of the word "love" in the context of the penguin's behavior. The unspoken rule is that this four-letter word is to be applied only to one creature on earth, homo sapiens. But why? A look at the larger picture shows this presumption of exclusivity is utterly unproved. In a broad physiological sense, we are practically identical not only with other mammals but also with birds - muscle for muscle, eye for eye, nerve for nerve, lung for lung, brain for brain, hormone for hormone - except for differences in detail of particular design specifications.
Functionally, I suspect love is an often temporary chemical imbalance of the brain induced by sensory stimuli that causes us to maintain focus on something that carries an adaptive agenda. Love is an adaptive feeling or emotion - like hate, jealousy, hunger, thirst - necessary where rationality alone would not suffice to carry the day. Could rationality alone induce a penguin to trek 70 miles over the ice in order to mate and then balance an egg on his toes while fasting for four months in total darkness and enduring temperatures of minus-80 degrees Fahrenheit and gusts of up to 100 miles an hour? And bear in mind that this 5-year-old penguin has just returned to the place of its birth from the sea, and thus has never seen an egg in its life and could not possibly have any idea what it is or why it must be kept warm. Any rational penguin would eventually say, "To hell with this thing, I'm going back for a swim and to eat my fill of fish."
And that, of course, would be the immediate end to the evolution of rationality in emperor penguins (and perhaps to the evolution of the penguins as a species). Adaptation and adherence to an unconscious genetic program driven by passions and appetites are as vital as they are often incredible. Even humans, the most rational of all species, require an overpowering love to do the remarkable things that parents do for their children.
The penguin's drives to persist in proximally bizarre behavior in the face of what must otherwise be overpowering temptations to do otherwise also suggests that they love to an inordinate degree. Where they differ from us is that they can "love" an egg as much or more than a peeping fuzz-ball of a hatchling.
In the last half-century, the hidden reality of nature has been revealed as never before. Our general perceptions, though generally lagging behind, are now catching up. We are becoming weaned from the make-believe world of Walt Disney's "Bambi." Is that why high-tech documentaries like "Microcosmos," "Winged Migration," "March of the Penguins" and, in a slightly different vein, Werner Herzog's new "Grizzly Man" are catching on? I suspect that the new breed of nature film will become increasingly mainstream because, as we learn more about ourselves from other animals and find out that we are more like them than supposed, we are now allowed to "relate" to them, and therefore to empathize.
Paradoxically, the cartoonish anthropomorphism of "Bambi," although it entertained the youngsters, blocked rather than promoted an understanding of animals. In "Bambi" we do not see other creatures. Instead, we are presented humans with antlers, and with our thought and speech. This is what the traditional idea of anthropomorphizing is - expecting animals to feel and behave like humans, which they never will. One look at that penguin with the egg on its toes shows the inadequacy, the outright folly, of wishing they "were more like us."
Nature is the greatest show on earth, and reverence for life requires acknowledging the differences between ourselves and the animals as well as seeing our relatedness. Sometimes that involves walking a tightrope, and missteps can result in tragedy. Take grizzly bears. Most of us rightly fear them (no less an instinct than love). Those who don't feel fear and consort with them - like Timothy Treadwell, the subject of "Grizzly Man" - stand a good chance of being eliminated from the gene pool.
There are so many stories to tell. Furthermore, the "actors" in these dramas do not perform for any money. They are at home in the most inhospitable (for us) places on the planet, and not only do they behave as if they are oblivious to the camera, they probably are oblivious. If we gain more exposure to the real - and if the producers and studios invest half as much care and expense into portraying animals as they do into showing ourselves - I suspect the results will be as profitable, in economic as well as emotional and intellectual terms - as the "March of the Penguins."
Bernd Heinrich, emeritus professor at the University of Vermont, is the authorof "The Geese of Beaver Bog."
Friday March 24, 06
Symphony of Sorrowful Songs
Earlier this evening I played Henryk Gorecki's Symphony No. 3, performed by the London Sinfonietta, with Dawn Upshaw (soprano). It's one of the most heartbreaking pieces of music I've ever heard, and it was played as part of Morrissey's Meltdown event a couple years ago.
The second movement uses the words found inscribed on the wall of a Gestapo cell by Helena Wanda Blazusiakowna. She scrawled her signature and the words, "18 years old, imprisoned since 26 September 1944," as well as this prayer:
No, Mother, do not weep,
While playing this CD I was also browsing the Web, and happened to be reading the postings by blogger Michael Totten about his tour of Iraqi Kurdistan. What I read was eerily connected to the musical piece playing in the backround, causing tears to fill my eyes.
Totten posted about his visit to a former Saddam Hussein torture chamber and prison that has since been converted to a genocide museum.
He tells us: "The hardest thing to see was the cell used to hold children before they were murdered. My translator Alan read some of the messages carved into the wall."
Two of the messages read:
“I was ten years old. But they changed my age to 18 for execution.”
"Dear Mom and Dad. I am going to be executed by the Baath. I will not see you again."
You can read more and view photographs here:
I am left feeling contempt for those who try and dismiss or downplay the evil of Saddam Hussein.
Wednesday March 01, 06
MANIFESTO: Together facing the new totalitarianism
After having overcome fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new totalitarian global threat: Islamism.
The recent events, which occurred after the publication of drawings of Muhammed in European newspapers, have revealed the necessity of the struggle for these universal values. This struggle will not be won by arms, but in the ideological field. It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats.
Like all totalitarianisms, Islamism is nurtured by fears and frustrations. The hate preachers bet on these feelings in order to form battalions destined to impose a liberticidal and unegalitarian world. But we clearly and firmly state: nothing, not even despair, justifies the choice of obscurantism, totalitarianism and hatred. Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man's domination of woman, the Islamists' domination of all the others. To counter this, we must assure universal rights to oppressed or discriminated people.
We reject « cultural relativism », which consists in accepting that men and women of Muslim culture should be deprived of the right to equality, freedom and secular values in the name of respect for cultures and traditions. We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of "Islamophobia", an unfortunate concept which confuses criticism of Islam as a religion with stigmatisation of its believers.
We plead for the universality of freedom of expression, so that a critical spirit may be exercised on all continents, against all abuses and all dogmas.
We appeal to democrats and free spirits of all countries that our century should be one of Enlightenment, not of obscurantism.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Monday February 27, 06
Tom & Jerry: Jewish Conspiracy?
Very interesting website: www.memritv.org
Some of what you find is so laughably insane you wonder if it's a Mad TV spoof. It's not. It's just another day of broadcasting in the Muslim world.
For example, the below transcript, where Iranian viewers are told the cartoon Tom & Jerry is part of a Jewish conspiracy.
Note to Professor Bolkhari: Far be it for me to question the wisdom and expertise of a Muslim Nazi freak like yourself, but Tom & Jerry was not a Disney cartoon, Walt Disney was not Jewish, and mice are indeed adorable and cute.
Film Seminar on Iranian TV: Tom and Jerry - A Jewish Conspiracy to Improve the Image of Mice, because Jews Were Termed "Dirty Mice" in Europe
On February 19, 2006, Iranian TV channel 4 covered a film seminar that included a lecture by Professor Hasan Bolkhari.(1) In addition to being a member of the Film Council of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), Bolkhari is a cultural advisor to the Iranian Education Ministry,(2) and active on behalf of interfaith issues.(3)
The following are excerpts from Bokhari's lecture.
Hasan Bolkhari: There is a cartoon that children like. They like it very much, and so do adults - Tom and Jerry.
Some say that this creation by Walt Disney will be remembered forever. The Jewish Walt Disney Company gained international fame with this cartoon. It is still shown throughout the world. This cartoon maintains its status because of the cute antics of the cat and mouse – especially the mouse.
Some say that the main reason for making this very appealing cartoon was to erase a certain derogatory term that was prevalent in Europe.
If you study European history, you will see who was the main power to hoard money and wealth, in the 19th century. In most cases, it is the Jews. Perhaps that was one of the reasons which caused Hitler to begin the anti-Semitic trend, and then the extensive propaganda about the crematoria began... Some of this is true. We do not deny all of it.
Watch Schindler's List. Every Jew was forced to wear a yellow star on his clothing. The Jews were degraded and termed "dirty mice." Tom and Jerry was made in order to change the Europeans' perception of mice. One of terms used was "dirty mice."
I'd like to tell you that... It should be noted that mice are very cunning...and dirty.
No ethnic group or people operates in such a clandestine manner as the Jews.
Read the history of the Jews in Europe. This ultimately led to Hitler's hatred and resentment. As it turns out, Hitler had behind-the-scene connections with the Protocols [of the Elders of Zion].
Tom and Jerry was made in order to display the exact opposite image. If you happen to watch this cartoon tomorrow, bear in mind the points I have just raised, and watch it from this perspective. The mouse is very clever and smart. Everything he does is so cute. He kicks the poor cat's ass. Yet this cruelty does not make you despise the mouse. He looks so nice, and he is so clever... This is exactly why some say it was meant to erase this image of mice from the minds of European children, and to show that the mouse is not dirty and has these traits.
Unfortunately, we have many such cases in Hollywood shows.
Endnotes: (1) According to the site of the 2005 Iranian Short Film Festival (http://www.shortfilmfest-ir.com/2005/jury/jury_spritual_2005_page-3.htm ), Hasan Bolkhari (b. 1962) holds a Ph.D in Islamic Philosophy and, among other things, teaches philosophy of art at Tabatabaei and Al-Zahra Universities in Iran and is a prolific author of literary and scientific works. According to the site, he is also counselor and member of the Film Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and a member of the IRIB's Approval Group - TV Films and Serials. (2) According to a BBC report (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/middle_east/822312.stm ), Bolkhari is a cultural advisor to the Iranian Education Ministry; according to the IRIB's English-language Radio Islam, he is an Iranian mass media expert (http://www.irib.ir/worldservice/englishRADIO/ISLAM/muslims.htm ). (3) According to the World Catholic Association for Communication, he was the Iranian member of the interfaith jury of the recent 24th Fajr International Film Festival (http://www.wmaker.net/signis_en/index.php?action=article&id_article=294434 ). According to the site, "the Interfaith Jury was set up in 2003 to promote inter-religious dialogue between Christians and Muslims." The jury also included a U.K. and a Belgian juror.
Wednesday February 15, 06
The Right to Offend by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
The following is Ayaan Hirsi Ali's recent speech in Berlin:
The Right to Offend.
I am here to defend the right to offend.
It is my conviction that the vulnerable enterprise called democracy cannot exist without free expression, particularly in the media. Journalists must not forgo the obligation of free speech, which people in other hemispheres are denied.
I am of the opinion that it was correct to publish the cartoons of Muhammad in Jyllands Posten and it was right to re-publish them in other papers across Europe.
Let me reprise the history of this affair. The author of a children’s book on the prophet Muhammad could find no illustrators for his book. He claimed that illustrators were censoring themselves for fear of violence by Muslims who claimed no-one, anywhere, should be allowed to depict the prophet. Jyllands Posten decided to investigate this. They -- rightly – felt that such self-censorship has far-reaching consequences for democracy.
It was their duty as journalists to solicit and publish drawings of the prophet Muhammad.
Shame on those papers and TV channels who lacked the courage to show their readers the caricatures in The Cartoon Affair. These intellectuals live off free speech but they accept censorship. They hide their mediocrity of mind behind noble-sounding terms such as ‘responsibility’ and ‘sensitivity’.
Shame on those politicians who stated that publishing and re-publishing the drawings was ‘unnecessary’, ‘insensitive’, ‘disrespectful’ and ‘wrong’. I am of the opinion that Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark acted correctly when he refused to meet with representatives of tyrannical regimes who demanded from him that he limit the powers of the press. Today we should stand by him morally and materially. He is an example to all other European leaders. I wish my prime minister had Rasmussen’s guts.
Shame on those European companies in the Middle East that advertised “we are not Danish” or “we don’t sell Danish products”. This is cowardice. Nestle chocolates will never taste the same after this, will they? The EU member states should compensate Danish companies for the damage they have suffered from boycotts.
Liberty does not come cheap. A few million Euros is worth paying for the defence of free speech. If our governments neglect to help our Scandinavian friends then I hope citizens will organise a donation campaign for Danish companies.
We have been flooded with opinions on how tasteless and tactless the cartoons are -- views emphasising that the cartoons only led to violence and discord. What good has come of the cartoons, so many wonder loudly?
Well, publication of the cartoons confirmed that there is widespread fear among authors, filmmakers, cartoonists and journalists who wish to describe, analyse or criticise intolerant aspects of Islam all over Europe.
It has also revealed the presence of a considerable minority in Europe who do not understand or will not accept the workings of liberal democracy. These people – many of whom hold European citizenship – have campaigned for censorship, for boycotts, for violence, and for new laws to ban ‘Islamophobia’.
The cartoons revealed to the public eye that there are countries willing to violate diplomatic rules for political expediency. Evil governments like Saudi Arabia stage “grassroots” movements to boycott Danish milk and yoghurt, while they would mercilessly crash a grassroots movement fighting for the right to vote.
Today I am here to defend the right to offend within the bounds of the law. You may wonder: why Berlin? And why me?
Berlin is rich in the history of ideological challenges to the open society. This is the city where a wall kept people within the boundaries of the Communist state. It was the city which focalized the battle for the hearts and minds of citizens. Defenders of the open society educated people in the shortcomings of Communism. The work of Marx was discussed in universities, in op-ed pages and in schools. Dissidents who escaped from the East could write, make films, cartoons and use their creativity to persuade those in the West that Communism was far from paradise on earth.
Despite the self-censorship of many in the West, who idealised and defended Communism, and the brutal censorship of the East, that battle was won.
Today, the open society is challenged by Islamism, ascribed to a man named Muhammad Abdullah who lived in the seventh century, and who is regarded as a prophet. Many Muslims are peaceful people; not all are fanatics. As far as I am concerned they have every right to be faithful to their convictions. But within Islam exists a hard-line Islamist movement that rejects democratic freedoms and wants to destroy them. These Islamists seek to convince other Muslims that their way of life is the best. But when opponents of Islamism try to expose the fallacies in the teachings of Muhammad then they are accused of being offensive, blasphemous, socially irresponsible – even Islamophobic or racist.
The issue is not about race, colour or heritage. It is a conflict of ideas, which transcend borders and races.
Why me? I am a dissident, like those from the Eastern side of this city who defected to the West. I too defected to the West. I was born in Somalia, and grew up in Saudi Arabic and Kenya. I used to be faithful to the guidelines laid down by the prophet Muhammad. Like the thousands demonstrating against the Danish drawings, I used to hold the view that Muhammad was perfect -- the only source of, and indeed, the criterion between good and bad. In 1989 when Khomeini called for Salman Rushdie to be killed for insulting Muhammad, I thought he was right. Now I don’t.
I think that the prophet was wrong to have placed himself and his ideas above critical thought.
I think that the prophet Muhammad was wrong to have subordinated women to men.
I think that the prophet Muhammad was wrong to have decreed that gays be murdered.
I think that the prophet Muhammad was wrong to have said that apostates must be killed.
He was wrong in saying that adulterers should be flogged and stoned, and the hands of thieves should be cut off.
He was wrong in saying that those who die in the cause of Allah will be rewarded with paradise.
He was wrong in claiming that a proper society could be built only on his ideas.
The prophet did and said good things. He encouraged charity to others. But I wish to defend the position that he was also disrespectful and insensitive to those who disagreed with him.
I think it is right to make critical drawings and films of Muhammad. It is necessary to write books on him in order to educate ordinary citizens on Muhammad.
I do not seek to offend religious sentiment, but I will not submit to tyranny. Demanding that people who do not accept Muhammad’s teachings should refrain from drawing him is not a request for respect but a demand for submission.
I am not the only dissident in Islam. There are more like me here in the West. If they have no bodyguards they work under false identities to protect themselves from harm. But there are also others who refuse to conform: in Teheran, in Doha and Riyadh, in Amman and Cairo, in Khartoum and in Mogadishu, in Lahore and in Kabul.
The dissidents of Islamism, like the dissidents of communism, don’t have nuclear bombs or any other weapons. We have no money from oil like the Saudis. We will not burn embassies and flags. We refuse to get carried away in a frenzy of collective violence. In number we are too small and too scattered to become a collective of anything. In electoral terms here in the west we are practically useless.
All we have are our thoughts; and all we ask is a fair chance to express them. Our opponents will use force to silence us. They will use manipulation; they will claim they are mortally offended. They will claim we are mentally unstable and should not be taken seriously. The defenders of Communism, too, used these methods.
Berlin is a city of optimism. Communism failed. The wall was broken down. Things may seem difficult and confusing today. But I am optimistic that the virtual wall, between lovers of liberty and those who succumb to the seduction and safety of totalitarian ideas will also, one day, come down.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
"Everyone is afraid to criticize Islam."
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one of the most sharp-tongued critics of political Islam - - and a target of radical fanatics. Her provocative film "Submission" led to the assassination of director Theo van Gogh in November 2004. The attackers left a death threat against Hirsi Ali stuck to his corpse with a knife. After a brief period in hiding, the 36- year- old member of Dutch parliament from the neo-liberal VVD party has returned to parliament and is continuing her fight against Islamism. She recently published a book, "I Accuse," and is working on a sequel to "Submission."
Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia where she experienced the oppression of Muslim women first hand. When her father attempted to force her into an arranged marriage, she fled to Holland in 1992. Later, she renounced the Muslim religion.
February 6, 2006
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Dutch politician forced to go into hiding after the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, responds to the Danish cartoon scandal, arguing that if Europe doesn't stand up to extremists, a culture of self-censorship of criticism of Islam that pervades in Holland will spread in Europe. Auf Wiedersehen, free speech.
SPIEGEL: Hirsi Ali, you have called the Prophet Muhammad a tyrant and a pervert. Theo van Gogh, the director of your film "Submission," which is critical of Islam, was murdered by Islamists. You yourself are under police protection. Can you understand how the Danish cartoonists feel at this point?
Hirsi Ali: They probably feel numb. On the one hand, a voice in their heads is encouraging them not to sell out their freedom of speech. At the same time, they're experiencing the shocking sensation of what it's like to lose your own personal freedom. One mustn't forget that they're part of the postwar generation, and that all they've experienced is peace and prosperity. And now they suddenly have to fight for their own human rights once again.
SPIEGEL: Why have the protests escalated to such an extent?
Hirsi Ali: There is no freedom of speech in those Arab countries where the demonstrations and public outrage are being staged. The reason many people flee to Europe from these places is precisely because they have criticized religion, the political establishment and society. Totalitarian Islamic regimes are in a deep crisis. Globalization means that they're exposed to considerable change, and they also fear the reformist forces developing among émigrés in the West. They'll use threatening gestures against the West, and the success they achieve with their threats, to intimidate these people.
SPIEGEL: Was apologizing for the cartoons the wrong thing to do?
Hirsi Ali: Once again, the West pursued the principle of turning first one cheek, then the other. In fact, it's already a tradition. In 1980, privately owned British broadcaster ITV aired a documentary about the stoning of a Saudi Arabian princess who had allegedly committed adultery. The government in Riyadh intervened and the British government issued an apology. We saw the same kowtowing response in 1987 when (Dutch comedian) Rudi Carrell derided (Iranian revolutionary leader) Ayatollah Khomeini in a comedy skit (that was aired on German television). In 2000, a play about the youngest wife of the Prophet Mohammed, titled "Aisha," was cancelled before it ever opened in Rotterdam. Then there was the van Gogh murder and now the cartoons. We are constantly apologizing, and we don't notice how much abuse we're taking. Meanwhile, the other side doesn't give an inch.
SPIEGEL: What should the appropriate European response look like?
Hirsi Ali: There should be solidarity. The cartoons should be displayed everywhere. After all, the Arabs can't boycott goods from every country. They're far too dependent on imports. And Scandinavian companies should be compensated for their losses. Freedom of speech should at least be worth that much to us.
SPIEGEL: But Muslims, like any religious community, should also be able to protect themselves against slander and insult.
Hirsi Ali: That's exactly the reflex I was just talking about: offering the other cheek. Not a day passes, in Europe and elsewhere, when radical imams aren't preaching hatred in their mosques. They call Jews and Christians inferior, and we say they're just exercising their freedom of speech. When will the Europeans realize that the Islamists don't allow their critics the same right? After the West prostrates itself, they'll be more than happy to say that Allah has made the infidels spineless.
SPIEGEL: What will be the upshot of the storm of protests against the cartoons?
Hirsi Ali: We could see the same thing happening that has happened in the Netherlands, where writers, journalists and artists have felt intimidated ever since the van Gogh murder. Everyone is afraid to criticize Islam. Significantly, "Submission" still isn't being shown in theaters.
SPIEGEL: Many have criticized the film as being too radical and too offensive.
Hirsi Ali: The criticism of van Gogh was legitimate. But when someone has to die for his world view, what he may have done wrong is no longer the issue. That's when we have to stand up for our basic rights. Otherwise we are just reinforcing the killer and conceding that there was a good reason to kill this person.
SPIEGEL: You too have been accused for your dogged criticism of Islam.
Hirsi Ali: Oddly enough, my critics never specify how far I can go. How can you address problems if you're not even allowed to clearly define them? Like the fact that Muslim women at home are kept locked up, are raped and are married off against their will -- and that in a country in which our far too passive intellectuals are so proud of their freedom!
SPIEGEL: The debate over speaking Dutch on the streets and the integration programs for potentially violent Moroccan youth -- do these things also represent the fruits of your provocations?
Hirsi Ali: The sharp criticism has finally triggered an open debate over our relationship with Muslim immigrants. We have become more conscious of things. For example, we are now classifying honor killings by the victims' countries of origin. And we're finally turning our attention to young girls who are sent against their wills from Morocco to Holland as brides, and adopting legislation to make this practice more difficult.
SPIEGEL: You're working on a sequel to "Submission." Will you stick to your uncompromising approach?
Hirsi Ali: Yes, of course. We want to continue the debate over the Koran's claim to absoluteness, the infallibility of the Prophet and sexual morality. In the first part, we portrayed a woman who speaks to her god, complaining that despite the fact that she has abided by his rules and subjugated herself, she is still being abused by her uncle. The second part deals with the dilemma into which the Muslim faith plunges four different men. One hates Jews, the second one is gay, the third is a bon vivant who wants to be a good Muslim but repeatedly succumbs to life's temptations, and the fourth is a martyr. They all feel abandoned by their god and decide to stop worshipping him.
SPIEGEL: Will recent events make it more difficult to screen the film?
Hirsi Ali: The conditions couldn't be more difficult. We're forced to produce the film under complete anonymity. Everyone involved in the film, from actors to technicians, will be unrecognizable. But we are determined to complete the project. The director didn't really like van Gogh, but he believes that, for the sake of free speech, shooting the sequel is critical. I'm optimistic that we'll be able to premier the film this year.
SPIEGEL: Is the Koran's claim to absoluteness, which you criticize in "Submission," the central obstacle to reforming Islam?
Hirsi Ali: The doctrine stating that the faith is inalterable because the Koran was dictated by God must be replaced. Muslims must realize that it was human beings who wrote the holy scriptures. After all, most Christians don't believe in hell, in the angels or in the earth having been created in six days. They now see these things as symbolic stories, but they still remain true to their faith.
INTERVIEW: GERALD TRAUFETTER
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
"We must declare war on Islamist propaganda."
May 14, 2005
Dutch member of parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been threatened with death for writing the film "Submission" -- which is heavily critical of Islam and for which filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered in November. She spoke with SPIEGEL about her life as a fugitive, how to fight radical Islam, and the need for legitimate intolerance.
SPIEGEL: Ms. Hirsi Ali, the trial of Theo van Gogh's murderers is about to begin. A Muslim fanatic stabbed the filmmaker to death in broad daylight last November, because, with your collaboration, he had filmed "Submission," a film about the suppression of Muslim women. Did you have any idea, at the time, that this eleven-minute short film could endanger the lives of both of you?
Hirsi Ali: I knew that there are many enemies. After all, they have been threatening me ever since I turned away from my faith in 2002. I warned Theo, urged him to request a bodyguard. But he defied me, saying that he didn't want the Dutch police entering his house.
SPIEGEL: Wasn't he aware of the reactions he would trigger among radical Muslims by portraying an abused woman in a see-through chador, her naked body painted with verses from the Koran?
Hirsi Ali: It was, after all, his intention to be provocative. But he underestimated the radicalism of his opponents. At the time, I had long since been provided with bodyguards by the government. But Theo would ride his bicycle through the city, and he continued to be listed in the telephone book. Everyone knew where he lived. He was an easy target. His only fear was for my safety. He kept urging me to move to the United States and start a new life.
SPIEGEL: The murderer left behind a death threat against you, a five-page letter stuck to Van Gogh's chest with a knife.
Hirsi Ali: I didn't find out about that until two days later. From then on my life was turned upside down. The police moved me from place to place, first to a navy barracks, then to a police academy, and from there to a resting room in the offices of the minister for Europe.
SPIEGEL: What did you feel during those days?
Hirsi Ali: I felt stunned. Only now has it become clear to me how concrete and deadly the threat is. But I also understood that this fatwa isn't just directed against me, but against Holland, against the entire Western world. We are all targets. In the eyes of radical Muslims, any country in which Muslims can be criticized openly is an enemy of Islam.
SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, you felt responsible for Van Gogh's death.
Hirsi Ali: I do have a sense of guilt, but it's mixed. Yes, I wanted to shake things up. But if I had thought that someone would die, I probably would not have written the screenplay for "Submission." I tried to keep Theo's name as secret as those of the actress and the crew, but Theo insisted on having his name on his film. For him it was a matter of principle.
SPIEGEL: Following Van Gogh's death when you knew you were targeted, were you able to think clearly about what you should do?
Hirsi Ali: No, I was constantly on the move. But I had had enough after six days. I was advised to go into hiding abroad if I wanted to sleep in one place for a longer time. The only places I would consider were Israel and the United States, because they know what the Islamic threat means in those countries. I decided to go to the United States.
SPIEGEL: Were you able to live openly there?
Hirsi Ali: No. Even in California I was constantly protected by bodyguards. I wasn't allowed to go outside or to meet with anyone. On the inside, I still felt numb.
SPIEGEL: Did you think about asking for advice from Salman Rushdie, against whom the Iranian mullahs issued a fatwa years ago?
Hirsi Ali: Before all this happened, I wasn't in contact with Salman. I met him for the first time at a PEN Club dinner in April of this year. He encouraged me, implored me, to remain strong. He explained to me how one can continue living in spite of a fatwa, and he gave me some tips.
SPIEGEL: For example?
Hirsi Ali: Moving to the United States, for example.
SPIEGEL: But you don't want to?
Hirsi Ali: We'll see. I gradually recovered after two months in California. The legislative session was beginning in The Hague, and I had to decide whether I wanted to return to parliament or remain in hiding. I returned.
SPIEGEL: So now you are once again working as a member of parliament, giving interviews and publishing. Your book "I Accuse" will appear in Germany on Wednesday. Has your life returned to normal?
Hirsi Ali: Normal? I am guarded 24 hours a day. My bodyguards are always with me, everywhere I go. There are two bedrooms in my apartment, one for me, and the other for two bodyguards who take turns sleeping. Whenever I open my door, the door to the other bedroom opens and they check to see what's going on.
SPIEGEL: You are never alone?
Hirsi Ali: Rarely. But I don't have a healthy social life either. How can you have a relationship when you must constantly be afraid of putting your partner's life at risk?
SPIEGEL: Can you go to the movies, go jogging, go shopping?
Hirsi Ali: The bodyguards try to adjust to my needs. I have to give them a copy of my schedule every morning and I'm not allowed to leave the house until they've made their preparations. Then I'm driven to the parliament building in an armored vehicle. When we arrive, I go through the side entrance, which has been heavily guarded since the attack on Theo. Incidentally, the government's ministers also stopped riding their bikes to work after the attack. A bodyguard sits in my office, and he waits in front of the door when I'm in meetings. Whenever I appear at events, the local police are always put on high alert. That's the way my life is, and I believe it will stay that way. That is, if I even have the opportunity to have a long life.
SPIEGEL: Isn't that grotesque? You fight for the liberation of the Muslim woman and now you yourself are guarded from morning to night. Your chador consists of bodyguards. Was it worth it?
Hirsi Ali: Yes. Radical Islam is too dangerous for this society, perhaps even for the entire world. It is important to fight against this threat. In the process of fighting some lives may be lost.
SPIEGEL: Now you are beginning to sound like a martyr yourself. The September 11 terrorists also died for an idea.
Hirsi Ali: I would like to draw a distinction there. If we all keep still and remain silent, there will be more than just one or two deaths. I prefer to follow the philosopher Karl Popper. He says that freedom is not to be taken for granted. It is vulnerable. One must fight for it and be willing to die for it. The Islamic scene is very aggressive. Those Muslims who wish to kill someone receive a great deal of support from their home countries. There is plenty of wealth, there are plenty of sponsors and there are plenty of desperate people who choose this path. We must defend ourselves if we wish to preserve our Western values. The price we pay is to be threatened.
SPIEGEL: You seem to be resistant against the hostility. In your book, you are unrestrained in your denunciation of Islam as backward, and you call for policies that force immigrants to become integrated. You are also in the process of preparing a second part of the film "Submission." Aren't you concerned about generating even more rage against you?
Hirsi Ali: What else can they do but issue a death threat? Now that I've already been given the maximum sentence, at least I can act freely.
SPIEGEL: The politics of intimidation seem to be effective with others. The producers of the Tessin film festival didn't dare to screen "Submission."
Hirsi Ali: I believe this will change. If Islam is to develop peacefully, words or images will be necessary. Even radical Muslims have had access to the Internet and satellite television for a long time. We must have answers to this. In other words, there will be a "Submission II," and also a "Submission III."
SPIEGEL: Not everyone in your party, the right-leaning liberal VVD, is happy about your commitment.
Hirsi Ali: The VVD is primarily an economic party that promotes liberal markets. Attacks on Islam are not part of the party platform. That's why many are irritated by my work.
SPIEGEL: Why did you switch from the Labour party to the VVD in 2002?
Hirsi Ali: The Labour party and the Green party are too politically correct for my tastes. They believe in a purely multicultural ideology. Because of my criticism of Islam, I could have been the cause of a split in the party, especially as many of their voters are Muslims. But I absolutely wanted to utilize the opportunity to fight for my cause in parliament. Politics can offer solutions for social problems, and that's important to me.
SPIEGEL: Since the murder, you have been making appearances everywhere. Are you satisfied with the political response to the threat posed by religious fanatics?
Hirsi Ali: The intelligence services only became truly attentive after the attack, and now they say they have a better handle on the movement. They searched the apartments of presumed Islamists -- and there are rumors of a video on which Theo's murderer, Mohammed Bouyeri, announces the attack. He also explains that it wouldn't matter to him if he were to die in the attempt, because he would end up in paradise.
SPIEGEL: But didn't the authorities respond to September 11?
Hirsi Ali: Yes they did. They called together the Muslim leaders, gave them money and asked them to keep their young people under control. It was laughable. Then they tried to force the many different groups under one roof. That effort produced two groups, one for liberal and one for orthodox Muslims. Their spokesmen were then expected to enforce all agreements internally. This is simply a naive expectation.
SPIEGEL: Why? After all, Islam is a highly authoritarian religion with strong leaders.
Hirsi Ali: Do you know what young Muslims who are drawn to radical Islam call these "leaders" who negotiate with the government? Charity whores. They consider them to be collaborators, traitors, idiots.
SPIEGEL: You want to see these young people be systematically introduced to Western values. But they live in closed communities, so how can they be reached?
Hirsi Ali: Start by knocking on the door! We must penetrate into their worlds.
SPIEGEL: You'll be seeing many doors slammed in your face.
Hirsi Ali: I'm not saying that it would be easy. For her book entitled "Invisible Parents," the journalist Margalith Kleijwegt did some research in the Moroccan section of Amsterdam, where Van Gogh's murderer, Bouyeri, lived. She knocked unsuccessfully on doors six times. The seventh door was opened, and then she learned a great deal about this community. For example, she learned that no parents in that neighborhood knew about the murder, that no parents even knew who Van Gogh was or had heard about the film. They only watch Arab television where they are fed with conspiracy theories about the West. They spend every vacation at home in Morocco. They can't speak or write Dutch, and they don't read newspapers. The lesson of Margalith Kleijwegt's book is that the parents are not equipped to give their children the upbringing necessary in a modern western society. They also have many children and these parallel worlds are growing. We look on without even knowing what happens in them.
SPIEGEL: Who should go in? Social workers?
Hirsi Ali: Certainly not. They are too politically correct and in most cases very young and inexperienced. No, there are other ways to get in. One is the political tool of preventing further growth of the ghettos. We need to employ a policy of integration that dictates to people where they can live and where they cannot live, thereby guaranteeing a mixing together of cultures and nations.
SPIEGEL: That sounds like a lot of trouble -- from the Dutch as well.
Hirsi Ali: So what? What is at issue is defending our values, and that can certainly lead to arguments.
SPIEGEL: Aren't you concerned that tensions would arise in these forced communities?
Hirsi Ali: The other alternative creates even greater tensions. If you allow the ghettos to grow, you'll have clashes between skinheads and Muslim extremists, for example. The second means of access should also be controlled by political means: A prohibition on all faith-based schools. Schools must be places of civilization, places that impart Western values, the purposes of democracy. We must treat the children as our children and not turn their education over to defenders of foreign dogma who indoctrinate them with anti-liberal doctrines.
SPIEGEL: Ignore the cultures of the immigrants?
Hirsi Ali: Blindly respecting their cultures is the wrong approach. Here's an example: Many children in Holland's Arab ghettos are taught the teachings of Ibn Abu-Taymiya, one of the founders of pure Islam who preaches the holy war as a way of life. Instead of studying European philosophers, the children are taught to abide by 11th century teachings!
SPIEGEL: Integration and European culture can't be imposed on people.
Hirsi Ali: But we can do something about it. This is where society comes in. Artists, kindergartens, churches, they should all penetrate into the ghettos. It's really grotesque: We have all kinds of NGOs that send people all the way to Africa to convince people to use condoms. But they don't dare touch the problems we have at home. Charity begins at home.
SPIEGEL: Perhaps this is partly because part of democracy means allowing people to think as they wish.
Hirsi Ali: Democracy also includes legitimate intolerance. The intolerable cannot be tolerated. We must declare war on Islamist propaganda. Why should we ignore that women in our midst are being suppressed, beaten, enslaved? Why should we ignore that people preach hatred and vow to destroy us?
SPIEGEL: Ms. Hirsi Ali, thank you for speaking with us.
Interview conducted by Conny Neumann and Michaela Schiessl
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan